SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police in an armed robbery squad modeled themselves on violent characters in Quentin Tarantino’s film “Reservoir Dogs,” dressing in black suits and sunglasses, and regularly used excessive force.
The Armed Offenders Squad in Victoria state acted as an unofficial force within the police, with members swearing allegiance to the squad and changing the police uniform to include a tie with two gold, intersecting revolvers.
A Office of Police Integrity report on the AOS, released this week, examined four decades of the squad’s history and found a disproportionate number of complaints against its detectives for using excessive force in arresting suspects.
“Rather than upholding the law, these officers took the law into their own hands,” said the report.
In one case, a hidden camera in a police interview room filmed detectives bashing a suspect during an interview. The suspect was repeatedly slapped and kicked, pinned to the ground and hit with a telephone when he asked to call someone. The detectives then tell the suspect not to “bleed everywhere.”
The integrity report found the AOS, disbanded in September 2006, had an elitist subculture and an “us-vs.-them” mentality that led them to take the law into their own hands.
Australian police forces have historically struggled with internal corruption and rogue officers.
A report into Australia’s largest force in New South Wales state in 1997 found corruption was systematic and entrenched, with officers involved in the drugs trade and competing with criminals to commit crimes. It said the force had “rarely been free of corruption” in its 135-year history.
A poem written by a AOS member describes “a squad of men all as one, ready to fight until the job’s done.”
“When banks get robbed and policemen are shot. The hierarchy cries, ‘Who have we got’. Who can clean up this mess. Let’s call on the men from the AOS,” reads the poem
The poem complains of criminals lying and police being reprimanded for taking tough action, but says: “So long as there’s bad crooks, they’ll need us around, if they’re rid of us then crime will abound.”
AOS detectives assumed a “noble cause” doctrine where the ends justified the means and bashing a criminal was a “community service,” said the integrity report.
“Squad members became renowned for wearing black suits, white shirts, dark sunglasses and a team-issue black tie,” said the report. “The outfits imitate the costumes worn by a network of violent criminals in the film Reservoir Dogs.”
“The deliberate identification with Reservoir Dogs was reinforced when a well-known image from the film was used to advertise the squad’s annual social function, ‘Robbers Rock’.”
The report said replacing the AOS with a taskforce model had been positive. “Not only has there been a significant reduction in complaints against detectives working in the area, but arrest and conviction rates have also improved,” it said.
But the AOS culture may still be alive within the Victorian police force. “I think there is nothing much in a name. Call it what you will, that is not going to solve the problem,” lawyer Gary Cooke told local radio.
Editing by Valerie Lee